Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Twofer.

I read a quote somewhere that said, "God, if you can't make me thin, please make all my friends fat." For you, my blog friends...

You're welcome.

There is nothing like a fresh, homemade tortilla. Bonus points if your grandma made it. A few more bonus points if you've slathered it with butter and are eating it rolled up, trying to keep it from dripping all over you. It's comfort food, at least for us little Mexican kids, at it's simple finest.

Unfortunately for me (cue sad music here) my mother never learned to make tortillas from her mother. This is a damn crying shame because my grandma makes the best tortillas EVER. She also lives in another state and doesn't speak to anyone in the family except my uncle, so it's not like I can just hit her up for a recipe either. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to hit up ANYONE'S nana for a recipe, because it's always "a handful of this" and "a pinch of that" and my hands were never the same size as the hands of anyone who I was watching. Seriously, I remember being ten and my mom sending me to go learn how to make tortillas from one of her friends. She was a very tall, very sturdy woman with hands like a man.

Did I mention I was ten? Yeah. Two handfuls of flour weren't going to cut it.

I've been looking for the perfect recipe for tortillas off and on for a very long time now. Some were just okay, some were downright terrible. None of them called for baking powder, which was a staple in my grandmother's recipe. (all her little craft supplies were sorted into red Calumet cans) This past month I decided I was really going to buckle down and figure this out and I think I've come up with something fairly decent that uses real measurements.

Now, I'm going to stop you right here if you're looking for authenticity. I don't have a posse of tias and cousins to show me the way and the light. Like I said, I've muddled along and I've come up with this more or less by researching and combining different things I found on the Internet.

The internet is cool, don't get me wrong, but a nana it ain't.

If you're okay with that, and you're okay with the fact that these tortillas, although waaaay better than anything sold at the grocery store, are not on par with my grandma's, or yours either for that matter, well then, carry on.

First, you'll need some water, about a cup and 1/3.

Drop six tablespoons of shortening in there. If you want to be more authentic here, use lard. They will taste better in the end, I guarantee. Unfortunately, lard totally squicks me out, so Crisco it was! I've been tempted to swap out some of the Crisco with bacon grease (which, strangely, I'm okay with) but I haven't been brave enough to sink to that level of culinary hedonism yet.

Stick the water in the microwave for a minute so it can warm up and the shortening/lard can melt. It probably won't melt all the way, so I just stir it around with a whisk until it does.

In a very large bowl, mix four cups flour (500g), 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon baking powder. Mix well to combine.

If you're not using a food scale to measure your flour, I highly advise you to try it. It's more accurate, you don't have to dirty a bunch of extra utensils, and it's less messy. You just place your bowl on the scale, hit zero, then add your flour. Regular all-purpose flour weighs 125 grams for every cup.

Go ahead and pour your warm water/fat mixture into the bowl of flour...

...and use one finger to start mixing it in. This prevents you from developing "club hand." If you are cooler than me, you have a dough whisk. You can use that instead and I will just sit over here with my doughy fingers and be jealous.

After a minute or so, your masa will start to come together and you can then use the rest of your hand to knead it in the bowl for a minute or so. It should pretty much clean the sides of your bowl.

Cover your dough with a clean, damp towel and let it rest for an hour. This is very important to the texture of the masa, as you will see when you come back.

After your hour is up, generously sprinkle a section of your kitchen counter with flour. Knead the masa a couple of times, then divide it into eighteen pieces. I do this by dividing it in half, then each half into thirds, and each third into thirds. This keeps the balls of dough mostly uniform.

Um, I said "mostly". You're going to want to make those balls of dough as smooth as possible before setting them to rest on the floured counter. This makes them look nicer when you roll out the finished product. I racked my brain to try to figure the best way to describe how to do this (because I have seen it done lots of times) and finally decided that the best way was to SHOW you, as that's how I learned.

I know, DUH, right? Please pardon my bad lighting and weird angle, haha!

So anyway, you cover your balls of masa with the slightly dampened towel again so they don't dry out, and let them rest for 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, take another clean dishcloth and dampen it slightly. Use it to line a tortilla warmer.

Next, you want to start to heat up your comal.

These are made from cast iron and are usually pretty cheap. I think I paid ten bucks for mine. They are also AWESOME for toasting the buns for sandwiches. Heat it on medium-low heat. If it gets too hot, you're not going to have good tortillas.

After your masa is done resting, take one of the balls and press it into some flour, flattening it into a three inch or so disc.

Roll it out on a floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, until it's about 7 or eight inches in diameter. Lay it gently on your hot comal.

It will start to look all bubbly like this after about 30 seconds. When it looks like this, flip it over. I find the easiest way to do that is to slide it to the edge of the comal with your fingertips so that a little bit is hanging off the edge, then you can grab that edge to turn it. You want to try to avoid using a spatula because that can tear your tortilla and it won't look very good.

After you flip it over, it will start to puff up. It may even puff into a perfectly round ball! Take another clean dishcloth, kind of wad it up a bit, and use it to gently press the tortilla to release the steam. Just be careful because it will be HOT. Let it cook for another 30 seconds or so, then remove it from the comal. Try not to overcook them, because they will get tough and chewy. Yuck.

You can stack your tortillas in the warmer as you make them, being sure to cover it with the lid each time so they stay warm.

After they are all cooked, you can draw up the sides of the towel into the warmer and then cover it. They'll keep well on the counter in the warmer. If you put them in the fridge they'll get tough and the flavor will change. Usually we have them for two days and then they're gone.

Most people will mix the fat directly into the flour (like for pie crust) and then add the warm water, but I hate the way that feels and like this method better for that reason. You may notice that as you're cooking your tortillas you get a lot of loose flour on the comal and that it will start to burn. Just take the same dishcloth you're using to press out the steam bubbles and use it to gently sweep the burned flour off onto the stove where you can clean it up later. I roll each tortilla while the previous one is cooking, as that's how I was taught to do it, but I think if you rolled them out ahead of time and separated them with sheets of floured wax paper that would work too. You would just waste a LOT of waxed paper so it's good to practice so you can roll them faster.

So what's up with the title of this post?

Well, tonight for dinner I served these tortillas with Chicken Posole. I used Martha Stewart's recipe, via Cathy Zielske's blog. This recipe is most definitely NOT authentic, as it uses tomato paste and chili powder instead of whole dried chiles. It is, however, delicious if you're looking for an easy soup with some Mexican-ish flavors that isn't spicy at all. Me being me, I had to modify a few things. I halved it, used my own homemade chicken stock, and doubled the water. This resulted in it needing a little more salt when I sat down to eat it. I also reduced the amount of chili powder because I wanted the baby to eat it too and I don't like spicy food. Finally, I changed up the garnishes because Martha missed the most important ones!!!

This is the recipe that I used (and will use from now on):

Chicken Posole


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 tbsp tomato paste

3 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

4 pints chicken stock

1 can (29 ounces) white hominy, drained

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

Coarse salt and ground pepper

Finely chopped onion and cilantro for garnish

Lime wedges


Heat oil in a 5-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onions; cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, chili powder, and oregano; cook, stirring constantly, until evenly distributed.

Add 4 cups water, broth, and hominy. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until fragrant, about 30 minutes.

Stir in chicken; season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until heated through. To serve, divide among bowls, and garnish with onion, cilantro and freshly squeezed lime juice.

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Blogger Olivia said...

Thanks for the great post! I love tortillas! Especially hot off the grill with butter, cinnamon and sugar. When I make posole, we garnish with radishes too. It's yummy!

10:24 AM  
Blogger Felicia said...

That's awesome that you learned to make tortillas. I need to learn. That's something we should be passing on to our next generation. I love your demonstration on how to make the volitas (masa into balls).

11:26 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Thanks for posting...will have to try this ASAP!!! Tortillas are my weakness!!

2:54 PM  
Blogger Hooptee said...

This looks awesome, i have to try this!

12:24 PM  
Blogger Katy and Chris said...

Oh, I never thought of putting the shortening in the water! I'm going to have to try this!

9:58 AM  

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